Who do you most frequently compare yourself to? If you’re not sure, try this question: Who have you compared yourself to in the last 24 hours?
If you’re still not sure, think of the last time you checked your Facebook or Instagram feed. Which updates made you feel envious, or made you feel as if your life paled in comparison? In turn, did any posts make you feel smug, or better than that person? Are you even aware of what you’re feeling and how that is influencing your daily decisions?
I try and avoid mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds as much as possible. Countless studies have shown that prolonged time on social media increases depression and envy and decreases well-being.
This is because we’re always comparing ourselves, our lives, our self-worth, to those closest to us. We’re comparing and competing with our circle, our friends and family and thus those meant to be our support structure become the enemy.
Now, sometimes, comparisons like this can drive us to improve ourselves and improve our outcomes, and that can be a very good thing.However, and most often, such comparisons lead us into areas of very negative personal reflection, often pushing us to simply give up on our progress or make poor emotionally based decisions in the heat of the moment.
I almost always regret it when I let my guard down and start scrolling. I’ll inevitably see something that makes me feel bad about myself or my life, or something else that makes me feel envious, that I’m missing something from my life that others have (something I probably wasn’t even thinking of until I saw it).
Thomas Mussweiler, a professor of organisational behaviour, describes comparison this way: “It’s one of the most basic ways we develop an understanding of who we are, what we’re good at, and what we’re not so good at.”
Most of the time, this calculation is made in a split second in the background, and we don’t even realise it. But when we dwell on the highlights of other people’s lives, it can quickly become toxic. We’re wired for connection and belonging, but if we constantly compare ourselves to others, we’re putting our happiness, confidence and mental health in the hands of others.
When I find myself playing the comparison game, feeling jealous or envious, I remind myself that true costs and sacrifices are hidden. While you might see a person’s financial success, you don’t see the endless years of studying and preparation. You don’t see the late nights of work. You don’t see the strain on personal relationships. You don’t see the debt load that’s being carried. You don’t see any of that and thus have no reliable metric for comparison.
Instead, all you see is the end result, the successful life they’re living, and you transpose that onto your own life. Ill-informed comparisons will cause you to spend time, effort and money for approval you don’t need.
Focus on the quality of your life, not the quantity of your likes. You can be anything, but you can’t be everything. Stop comparing and start creating your life.
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